Monday, April 04, 2011

Escaping to the movies

There have been times when I have expected movie theaters, besieged by Netflixs and cable, to go the way of the Dodo bird. After all, for the price of a movie ticket, sodas, popcorn and some candy, you can practically buy an HD flat screen television and watch a film in the comfort of your own home. And you don't have to a man with a head the size of Rhode Island sitting in the seat in front of you (unless in your house has an overly large head and sits in front of the television in which case you can simply shout, "Hey, move your fathead").

It's not as those the suburban shopping mall theaters with 52 postage stamp sized theaters go out of their way to enhance your theater experience, either. Give me a vintage theater any day, crappy acoustics or not. At least you can capture some of the romance of the original motion picture theaters built when a movie was the next best thing available after a live performance.

When I was a kid growing up in Boise, escaping to a movie was sporadic luxury.  My favorite was theAda Theater. It had originally been called the Egyptian Theater. It was built in the mid 1920s when the discovery of King Tut's tomb inspired fashion and architecture in the US. I don't know when they changed the name to the Ada Theater, but it was beautiful (even if a bit worn). The stage and screen were framed by faux columns decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I loved that theater. Mom would drop me and my brothers off at the Skagg's Drug Store around the corner from the  Ada, and we'd buy cheap candy bars (six for a quarter) to smuggle into the theater to avoid the high theater prices (a quarter a piece for Sugar Babies, Milk Duds or Junior Mints). The Ada had a balcony as well as a sprawling main floor. And there was this huge Egyptian motif chandelier hanging in the center of the theater that slowly dimmed just before the movie started. I'd love sitting in the dark on a hot summer's day basking in the air conditioning and getting lost in the big screen.

I remember seeing 2001 a Space Odyssey there and not understanding a single thing about the movie. I also saw Planet of the Apes . I vaguely recall a movie with Dick Van Dyke called Robinson Crusoe, USN about a navy fighter pilot marooned on a desert island. Oh, and I believe I also saw a film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars there.

The Ada Theater was eventually restored as a historical building and the name was changed back to the Egyptian. I believe it is still operating in Boise, but I believe it mainly shows art films and has concerts with the old pipe organ that was originally used there during the silent movie era.

But the old theaters are a rare commodity these days.  I don't think independent  theaters can afford to operate any more. Even the chain giants seem hold on by a small margin bolstered by obscenely expensive concessions and changing movies weekly to match the ADD nature of most people these days longing for something fresh and new that hasn't already gone to DVD or cable.

We took our toddlers to our local theater on the weekend to see Johnny Depp's Rango. It was an older theater in our small downtown area in a town outside of Seattle. The theater didn't have the same grandeur of the Egyptian in Boise, but it at least looked like a theater on the inside. But as the lights dimmed and the overly loud sound system kicked in, I found my mind drifting off and I kept looking at my watch wondering when the film would be over.

It's sad, but escaping to a movie now means to me that I can turn on the big screen, scroll through on demand and watch something at my leisure, pausing the action to make my own popcorn or take a bathroom break. And I can sit in my own easy chair wearing sweats.

I do miss the hieroglyphics on the wall, though.

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